In Part IV of NBA Draft Week, we’re offering insight into the person and player that is Josh Scott. Like what Ralphie Report’s Jeff Hauser wrote up on wide receiver Nelson Spruce, this is tailored to NBA fans trying to read up on whomever their team drafts or signs. If you’re a Buffs fan or regular reader, you probably know this stuff already, but you’re welcome to stick around anyway.
Josh Scott will go in CU history as one of the greatest of all time. He came onto the scene as a top-50 recruit out of Monument, Colorado and started right away for a team that reached the NCAA Tournament. In a loaded freshman class, he finished on the All-Conference Freshman team.
The next season was significantly better, as he upped his scoring and rebounding while improving steadily on defense. After the untimely injury to star point Spencer Dinwiddie, Scott was the team’s unquestioned best player and led them to their third straight Tournament appearance. He won the Chauncey Billups award for team MVP and would go on to win that award the following two seasons as well.
Going into his junior season, Scott’s name was popping up as a potential breakout prospect, a possible first round draft pick if his improvement continued. Alas, ‘twas not to be. Scott dealt the entire with excruciating lower back spasms that would flare up at random; he missed eight games and was noticeably affected in countless others. The Buffs didn’t have much support around Scott, so even when he was healthy, he faced a steadfast diet of double teams. Despite all that, Scott impossibly improved all of his counting stats and had career highs in offensive rating and player efficiency.
After missing the tournament the previous and losing their second and third best players (Askia Booker to graduation, Xavier Johnson to injury), no one had any idea how the Buffs’ season would go. Even us biased folk in Boulder were joking about NIT appearances. Scott was having none of that and he carried the Buffs to the Big Dance. On his way there, he beat the Arizona Wildcats almost by himself and out dueled Utah’s lottery center Jakob Poeltl. (If I can somehow link to Princess Bride, I will, every single time.) Colorado eventually lost to UConn in the Big Dance despite Scott’s magnificence. The first team All-Conference forward finished his career with a 23-point, 11-rebound performance against NBA-quality defense, all while being his team’s only offensive weapon.
Scott was undoubtedly one of the best college players in his time at CU, but it’s hard to say if his game will translate to the NBA. As such, we’ll take a look at his strengths and weaknesses.
Only a handful of draft prospects, if at all, are more polished on the offensive block than Scott. With an array of post moves and ambidextrous finishing, Scott was unguardable one-on-one for the average college big man. If a poor defender was stuck on an island with Scott, he was going to get scored on whether it was on a post move or at the free throw line. Unlike many excellent post scorers, Scott is highly skilled at generating fouls and has great touch from the charity stripe, shooting 77% in his career from there.
Not only can Scott score on virtually anyone one-on-one (he schooled up Arizona’s defensive monster Kaleb Tarczewski many, many times), but he can go through an entire defense if need be. At CU, this was an essential skill for him. Without much surrounding scoring threats in his final two and a half seasons, opposing teams would heavily play zone defense and collapse on Scott whenever he had the ball. From there, Scott was keen at finding open shooters (he can a great 13.5% assist rate his senior season) and was strong and agile enough to go through the crowded paint for buckets. Despite all these double- or triple-teams and a high usage rate, Scott never struggled with turnovers (he averaged just over one turnover per game in his final two seasons).
Given Scott’s ability to dominate all kinds of defense, you can understand why Buffs fans would scream at coach Tad Boyle to call more plays for Scott, even if he was already being force fed the ball.
This section will be shorter, I promise.
Colorado basketball has always been founded on rebounding dominance. Last season’s team was fourth in the nation in rebounds per game and first among power conference schools. I want to say this was all because of Scott, but that’d be. Scott was never the best rebounder on his team, that would be Wesley Gordon. Even so, Scott averaged more than 8.5 rebounds after his freshman season (I don’t include his freshman season because Andre Roberson absorbed every rebound. He was unstoppable on the glass) and carried a superb 21% defensive rebounding rate.
Scott isn’t very athletic (more on this soon), so he relies on positioning and instincts to snag rebounds. Without that athleticism, it’s tough to say whether or not he can be an average rebounder. Players with similar rebounding rates and physical makeup — Kelly Olynyk, Tyler Zeller, JaJuan Johnson, etc. — were below average rebounders in the NBA. I’m concerned this tend will continue with Scott, but it’s still a legitimate NBA skill.
Contrary to most ace interior defenders, Scott doesn’t jump out of the gym or stand 7’2. Like with rebounding, Scott makes up for average size (yes, 6’10 is average) and athleticism with positioning and instincts. I detailed it in depth here, but Scott was on the Pac-12 All-Defense because on excellent one-on-one post defense, heady help defense, and the ability to block shots without fouling, which is a much rarer skill than you would initially think. That said, most of his blocked shots are below the rim; he doesn’t have the hops to challenge shots above it. Also like his rebounding, I doubt he would be more than an average defender in the NBA, but for a role player, that’s serviceable.
Scott has excellent touch around the rim and is a great free throw shooter, but he doesn’t exactly have NBA range. Don’t get me wrong, he can still shoot the college three when he’s wide open or on fire, but nothing beyond 15 feet is established as part of his offensive game. At 6’10, Scott is likely too small to play center and considering the evolution of basketball (more shooting, less size, particularly at the 4), many teams will pass on Scott simply because he’s not a shooter. Unless Scott can develop an outside shot — I’m 50/50 on the possibility — his suitors will be limited and his offensive ceiling will be lessened.
This is by far the biggest knock of Josh Scott. He wasn’t invited to the draft combine (the new draft layout favors the young guys scouts believe can be breakout stars), so we don’t have his official vertical, shuttle time or anything like that. As someone who has seen Scott play 120+ games, I can attest that they would have been far below average. Scott can get up and down the court well, but he isn’t quick or fast by any means. As far as his vertical goes, there’s a reason his blocked shots are below the rim.
The lack of bounce can be an issue on offense, too. Scott is a player who relies on getting off his shots with strength, quickness and dexterity; he doesn’t or can’t finish over players because he can’t get over them. Against more athletic players in the NBA, it’s reasonable to suspect he’ll struggle finishing at the rim. For the scouts seeing this, Scott’s major offensive skill is drastically downgraded. If his offense is docked, teams won’t even see him as an NBA-quality rotation player, which is his best-case scenario at this point.
Josh Scott probably won’t be drafted, but if your team signs him as an undrafted free agent, he will work tirelessly to become a quality NBA player. That said, it’s to be determined whether or not his game will translate to the NBA, mostly because of his lack of athleticism. I want to believe a big man as skilled as he should easily make an NBA team — he deserves a fair chance, at the very least — but I’m seeing Scott more and more as someone best suited to star in the Euro Leagues. However, if he extends his range to or near the three-point line, he should find a niche in the Association.